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Nash Central, Rocky Mount High win to set up finals matchup

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Friday, February 17, 2017

BAILEY — Basketball becomes a solo sport when a player is at the foul line. With no defense, the shot going in depends on the player.

Nash Central’s Michaela Nelms was reminded of that before Thursday’s 3-A Big East Conference tournament semifinal against Wilson Fike. Bulldogs coach Terri Cash spoke with Nelms about her free-throw shooting, and reminded the senior that should could be an elite foul shooter if she remained focused.

That message kicked in at the right time. Nelms knocked down four consecutive free throws in the waning seconds to keep the Bulldogs in front as they hung on for a 43-39 win. The victory earns Nash Central a spot in the final tonight against top-seeded Rocky Mount High.

“I knew I had to focus on my form,” said Nelms, who scored a game-high 19 points. “It was a situation where I had to make them or else.”

The alternative was continuing a trend of misses and allow Fike to stay within a possession. And with the way the Demons were able to get to the basket in the final quarter, that was a dangerous thought. But Nelms came through. Her Bulldogs held a 39-37 lead with 23 seconds remaining when the point guard stepped to the foul line for a one-and-one opportunity.

Nelms was 1 of 4 from the foul line up to that point, but made both. She then made two more on the next possession, scoring the final four Bulldogs’ points to hold off the Demons.

Nash Central didn’t figure the score would be so tight after it looked poised to run away with a win after a strong first quarter. An efficient offense created space for Kayalin Mitchell and Myia Spivey, as each made a 3-pointer, to open a 14-8 lead. But the offense stalled soon after and the Bulldogs lead slipped to 20-19 by halftime.

Things got back on track in the third quarter. The Bulldogs went on an 8-0 run, with the final two points coming when Spivey knocked down a pair of free throws courtesy of a technical foul on Fike coach Kim Howard. That must have jolted the Demons, because they finished the quarter on a 6-0 run to creep back in.

Carisha Leonard, who has been part of Nash Central’s starting five for less than a month, has proved to be a reliable source of rebounds for the guard-heavy Bulldogs. What Leonard lacks in size, 5-foot-9 playing against a pair of 6-2 forwards, she makes up for in energy. She grabbed a pair of crucial boards late in the game and finished with 10 to go with four points.

“She’s a great athlete,” Cash said of Leonard. “She can really jump, and never runs out of energy. She used to be our spark plug off the bench, and now she gives us an edge under the basket.”

An edge Nash Central is going to need tonight against a tough RMH squad.

Rocky Mount High 52

Wilson Hunt 34

The Gryphons had their inside-outside game working to perfection again and breezed to a win in a 3-A Big East Conference semifinal. The victory secured a berth in the tournament championship game against Nash Central.

Mya Pittman scored all nine of her points in the first quarter for Rocky Mount High, and set the tone early. The Warriors were forced to decide to either step out to defend the perimeter, or clog the lane to slow down forward Keyanna Spivey. The Gryphons made sure both couldn’t be stopped.

RMH led 19-8 after the first quarter, then 31-16 at halftime.

“We’re always in motion,” Gryphons guard Michelle Gainey said. “We have so many options that make us hard to slow down.”

When parts of the RMH offense did slow down, however, Gainey came to the rescue. The senior scored all 12 of the Gryphons’ second-quarter points with a smooth jumper, and finished with a game-high 19. Spivey added 14.

Forward Ashley Hatfield didn’t score, but grabbed 17 rebounds. She and Spivey gobbled up anything on either block, allowing the Gryphons to score second-chance points, or to get out into transition. 

“Ashley’s a great part of our team because we have Keyanna who goes so hard, and then Ashley is another person down there who can rebound and make plays,” Gainey said.

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